Tuesday Tip! Oral History Reminder List

We’re starting a new weekly tip section in the blog! Between the team we’re constantly sharing tips, resources and seeking out advice. We thought it would be great to share this with you and hopefully also get some of your great tips that we might showcase from you in the future!

Today, we thought that we would start with our basics! There is an incredible resource, from www.dohistory.org, which is a tool kit for oral history. You can find the whole fantastic kit here, and we seriously recommend that you check it out: http://dohistory.org/on_your_own/toolkit/oralHistory.html Section II has an oral history reminder list.

Tell History is, as you know, not an exercise in academia and–as we encourage videos that are 2-5 minutes long with many of them are recorded on a phone or via Skype–we’ve slightly adapted this amazing reminder list for our team and citizen historians. This Tuesday’s tip is our basic reminder list!

Oral History Reminder List (with thanks to www.dohistory.org)

  1. Decide your goals and determine if making this recording for Tell History is right for you! There are so many amazing Oral History projects out there – perhaps there’s something which might suit you better
  2. Read up on the topics you want to focus on. The better you understand something the easier it will be to talk to your interviewee about.
  3. You may already know exactly the person and exactly the story you want to record, but what if you want to record more? How will you select the people you will interview? Contact potential interviewees, explain what you are doing, and ask for help.
  4. Assemble your equipment to fit your purposes. Many of our videos are recorded on a smartphone or tablet. Make sure that you have enough battery life and memory to get you through the interviews.
  5. If you have one, use an external microphone for better sound quality.
  6. Test your equipment beforehand and get to know how it works under various conditions. Think about how much light you need to get a picture you are happy with. Practice using your equipment before you go to the real interview.
  7. Compile your list of topics or questions.
  8. Practice interviewing. Interviewing gets easier but the first times can be hard. Grab someone from the team (we’ve all been there!) or a family member and help you go through it.
  9. Make a personalized checklist of things you must remember to do before, during, and after the interview.
  10. Verify your appointment a day or two before the interview. If you have a Skype interview it is worth verifying by e-mail / reminding the interviewee about 30 minutes before the interview should take place too.
  11. On the day of the interview, give yourself extra time to get there. If you’re on Skype, make sure you’re ready, with your desk set up as you would like (don’t forget some water!)
  12. Interview and record in a quiet place. When setting up, listen for a moment. Make adjustments, such as stopping the pendulum on the tick-tock clock, putting out the dog that’s chewing noisily on the recorder cord, and closing the door on the noisy traffic. If it helps, take an audio note or audio recording and play it back to yourself to listen for noise. If you are doing this over Skype, then check the noise from their end!
  13. Check the light and positioning of the interviewee in the frame. Explain how far they can move around before they are out of shot!
  14. Make sure the interviewee understands the purpose of the interview and how you intend to use it. This is not a private conversation. You can show them the website together, you can also get them to help you suggest tags or a description of the story.
  15. Start each recording with a statement of who, what, when, and where you are interviewing.
  16. Listen actively and intently.
  17. Speak one at a time.
  18. Allow silence. Give the interviewee time to think. Silence will work for you.
  19. Ask one question at a time. We encourage you to submit multiple shorter videos!
  20. Follow up your current question thoroughly before moving to the next.
  21. Usually ask questions open enough to get “essay” answers unless you are looking for specific short-answer “facts.”
  22. Start with less probing questions.
  23. Ask more probing questions later in the interview.
  24. Wrap up the interview with lighter talk. Do not drop the interviewee abruptly after an intense interview.
  25. Be aware of and sensitive to the psychological forces at work during the interview.
  26. Limit interviews in length, depending on the fatigue levels of you and your interviewee.
  27. In general, don’t count on photos to structure your interview, but you can use them as initial prompts. Carry large envelopes for borrowed and labeled artefacts such as photos. You can submit scans to us of any supporting documents or photos which might add to the history.
  28. Label and number all recordings immediately. This will seriously help you uploading!
    You need the interviewee permission and them to sign the release form where necessary before you upload.
  29. After the interview, make field notes about the interview. This is a great time to write down the tags you will include with your upload.
  30. Write a thank-you note / send a thank you e-mail and follow up.
  31. Upload it to the Tell History website
  32. Copy borrowed photos immediately and return the originals. Handle all photos by the edges and transport them protected by stiff cardboard in envelopes. You can scan them and e-mail them to us (team@tellhistory.com)
  33. Transcribe the recording if you can. We love to have accessible material. For interviews not in English a transcription really aids us with translation (or even a translation itself!).
  34. Analyze the interview. Verify facts. Compare your results with your research design. Did you get what you need? What further questions do the interview results suggest? What improvements in your method do the interview results suggest? How do you feel about it?
  35. Go back for another interview if necessary.
  36. Make sure you send the story page to your interviewee!